The Latest: A day in a Covid-19 vaccine lab

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
Sent as a


Jul 22, 2020

Dear Reader,

There’s a lot of vaccine news to report this week. Two vaccine candidates — one from Oxford University and the other one from a Chinese company — seemed to trigger Covid-19 immune responses in humans without dangerous side effects.

🦠 If you want a deeper dive into how to read and understand the latest vaccine updates, I recommend this interview we just published with biotech reporter Emily Mullin, who is covering the evolving vaccine news. 🦠

There’s still a long way to go, but the scientists behind the work are inspiring. Take for example, immunologist Megan O’Connor, one of the many researchers developing a Covid-19 vaccine. Just months after having a baby, O’Connor is back in the lab working long hours to move the science forward.

“Even when I’m having bad days or think I’m a bad mother, I hope that my daughter can look back at this in the future and know that I was trying to make a difference,” she says.

Read: A Day in the Life of a Scientist in the Coronavirus Vaccine Race

Here’s what’s new:

  • Case count: There are over 3.9 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and over 14.9 million confirmed cases worldwide. So far more than 142,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.
  • President Donald Trump urges mask-wearing: The president also said in a press briefing that the outbreak will likely “get worse before it gets better.”
  • The stimulus plan debate continues: Republicans announced on Tuesday that they plan to provide $105 billion for schools, direct payments to American families, and more aid for struggling small businesses. Read more.
  • The CDC says the number of people infected with Covid-19 far exceeds the number of reported cases: Data suggests the infection rates for some regions are anywhere from two to 13 times higher than reported, the agency reports.
  • The European Union agrees to a stimulus plan: The 750 billion euro ($857 billion) stimulus agreement was spearheaded by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France. Read more.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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A quick Q&A: What’s an RNA vaccine, and why is it special?

A lot of vaccines are live or inactivated vaccines that involve weakening or killing a whole germ so it can’t cause disease. Vaccines made this way include ones for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, flu, polio, and rabies.

Instead of delivering the whole virus, an RNA coronavirus vaccine (like the one made by Moderna) aims to deliver genetic instructions for the body to make a coronavirus protein. The idea is, when a person’s cells start making this protein, the body will recognize it as foreign and mount an immune response.

Moderna’s vaccine uses a piece of RNA, but some other experimental vaccines are using DNA. The reason this approach is attractive is that the small strands of DNA and RNA can be manufactured pretty quickly. The other advantage is the piece of DNA or RNA can be swapped out for any pathogen, so the technology could be adapted to any new threat. — Emily Mullin, staff writer at OneZero

Read the full interview here: Ask a Reporter: What You Should Know About the Coronavirus Vaccine

New on the blog:

We Should Not Still Be Here

Oxford’s Coronavirus Vaccine Shows Promise

There’s a Way to Reopen Safely. America Is Not Doing It.

What the Latest Findings Say About Dexamethasone

Why Testing Speed Matters

Essential explainers:

The Best Masks for Every Situation, According to Health Experts

There’s Good News About Your Immune System and the Coronavirus

How Air Pollution May Be Causing More Coronavirus Complications

Here’s a few smart reads:

How Inclusive Is Covid-19 Research? A Report Card (So Far)

A Day in the Life of a Scientist in the Coronavirus Vaccine Race

I Spent Three Weeks in School, With Kids, Under Covid-19

Israel’s Coronavirus Roller Coaster



Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that